chapter  13
14 Pages

Mnemonic Meanings of the American Capitol

WithCharles T. Goodsell

In The Meaning of the Built Environment, Amos Rapoport refers to the nonverbal communicative function of the built environment as mnemonic. Architectural historians Henry-Russell Hitchcock and William Seale contend that the capitol is a uniquely American contribution to monumental architecture, the only other example being the skyscraper. In supreme court chambers, which once existed in the US Capitol and are found in many state capitals, the high bench shows the position of the justices. Another middle-level mnemonic meaning that derives from the organization of capitol space pertains to bicameralism. Rapoport develops three subdivisions of mnemonic meaning: high-level; middle-level; and low-level. Rapoport proposes that the built environment be thought of as a means of nonverbal communication. Within the legislative chambers, the built environment of fixed and semi-fixed features possesses aspects that are peculiarly American. Rapoport refers to meanings at this level as cosmological, philosophical, or religious.